Andri Tambunan

6ft Apart: The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event affecting so many lives. We are rarely confronted with the same threat and uncertainties. Across the globe, we are undergoing a collective experience that forced us to alter many aspects of how we live, work, learn, and interact with one another. The purpose of this project is to convey how during this pandemic individuals and families have coped and adapted to new sets of challenges and norms using visuals and personal testimonies.

I am Andri (photographer), and this is my family: my sister Ro, with our dog Mocha; my Mom Anny (72); My brother Jon with our dog Mickey; My eldest brother Ramos with his family, son, Theo (8), and wife, Eva.

The shelter in place order was given on March 19th in Sacramento, California but I started staying home a week earlier. I was keeping up with the spread of the virus in Europe and Asia, and I knew it was just a matter of time until it arrives at my front door. I remember I was at the gym wiping down sweat that someone had left behind on a machine and thinking that it was the worst possible place to be in and I ended my workout and haven’t returned since. During the lockdown we all had to make many adjustments, social distancing, wearing masks while in public, washing our hands consistently, wiping down counters and groceries, and limiting our exposure outside the house.

My biggest scare during the lockdown is when I had to take my mom to the Emergency Room. She was sleeping and woke up around 1:30 am because her blood pressure shot up to 200. My mom is healthy and she has no history of high blood pressure. The first thought that came to my mind was that it could be related to COVID-19. While I was driving her to the ER I asked her questions to evaluate if she was experiencing the virus’s symptoms. When I reached the ER, I wasn’t even allowed to enter inside. The nurse took her in and I waited several hours while the doctor ran multiple tests. Luckily, it wasn’t COVID-19. The doctor said that her test results were normal and that the high blood pressure might have been caused by stress, exhaustion, and poor diet. My mom is still very active and independent and she told me that she was experiencing stress from being confined inside. I monitored my mom’s condition, reminding her to rest and eat healthier food, and staying up late just in case.

I moved back to Sacramento in late December 2019 after spending almost a decade living in Indonesia and working as a documentary photographer covering SE Asia. I was on track to re-establishing my career back in the States. I was meeting with editors in LA and San Francisco, connecting with colleagues and collaborators, and networking with potential clients, and looking for a new home-base in California. When the pandemic hits all my plans and progress got put on pause and upcoming projects and assignments were canceled or postponed indefinitely. Almost all the available assignments were related to covering the COVID-19 pandemic.

In my line of work as a documentary photographer, I’ve covered armed conflicts, violent protests, and humanitarian disasters. However, because I was living with my mom and other family members I didn’t accept or pursue any assignment that carries a high risk of infecting my household. I had saved enough money to cover my expenses for the rest of the year and I opted to hold off from working until the pandemic is under control. However, it was important to record the impact of this pandemic on individuals, families, and communities around me and I found personal projects to pursue that are safe for me and the people I photographed.Due to this pandemic, we’ve spent more time together as a family. Every Sunday we have been having our family dinner. We usually do this on special occasions but during the lockdown, we have a potluck every week and I hope it will continue. I’ve been asked many times if I was happy to be back, and honestly, there is no other place I’d rather be than being close and present with my family and friends during this time of uncertainty.

It will be a while until things will go back to “normal.” But perhaps we now realize there were many things wrong with the norm. This pandemic highlights many of the inequality in our country like how we are dependent on essential workers who are risking their lives but many of them are not earning a living wage. But most of all, I hope this pandemic reminded all of us that kindness and love toward one another will get us through these dark times.

Andri Tambunan was born in Indonesia but moved with his family to California when he was nine because “Mom wanted to seek for a better life.” He writes, “Initially, photography started as a medium to capture a fleeting moment in time. As for self-expression, the camera allows me to connect to the world and convey my thoughts and ideas through pictures. I use photography as a vehicle to explore the world and make personal connections to my surroundings. But perhaps one of the most important aspects of photography to me is its ability to connect people regardless of distance, time, and differences. I believe in the power of images and as a documentary photographer, I aim to use photography as a tool to inform and to move people into action. I realize that having a camera in my hand gives me both a rare privilege and a profound responsibility. I believe that activism through visual imagery is also a powerful instrument to affect social change. Beyond still photographs, I employ various visual mediums including, video, exhibitions, printed publications, social & online media to engage the audience. After living for 10 years in Indonesia and covering various assignments in South East Asia, I am now based in Sacramento, CA. I divide my time between commissioned assignments and self-initiated projects focusing on social, environmental, and human rights issues. I am conscientious and resourceful and willing to travel worldwide for any challenging assignments including reportage, editorial, travel, portrait, corporate, commercial, NGO, and video.”